For Teachers

Positive Reinforcement or Negative Correction - Which Is Best?

9:54 AM

What is better? Positive Reinforcement, or Negative Correction? This is a debate that has been going on in the dance world, and the parenting world, and the education world, for ages. And guess what... I know the answer.

There is no answer.

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First before we can do anything, we need to define our terms.

Positive Reinforcement - telling a child they did something correctly, and encouraging them to continue doing it.
  • You kept your back leg straight, that was correct! 
  • Ella pointed her toes so beautifully, can you guys do that?
  • I love the way John is standing in first position on his spot!

Negative Correction - Telling a child not to do something, pointing out the mistake.
  • Don't bend your back leg
  • Point your toes! 
  • You hiked your hip up - try again
So which one is better? Some teachers are die-hard positive only, while others only give corrections. many, like me, do both. Look at the advantages and disadvantages, and then we can discuss.

Positive Reinforcement helps the student visualize. If you say "those were beautifully pointed toes," the student is now thinking about what those toes look like. They also associate pointed toes as good. Many students inherently want to please their teacher, so positive comments like that can encourage them to replicate the action. 

The downside to this is you cannot positively reinforce everything - your'd be complimenting all day, and your students would be convinced they are the best dancers in the world.

Positive Reinforcement is best used in bits and pieces and given as a correction - "look how Anna did X, that's correct, let's do it again and focus on that."

>>>>>You might like: How To Behave In Dance Class

It's also a huge help with a student who may have behavioral issues. This is a whole other article, but many kids misbehave in class because they want attention. Drawing attention and rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad behavior is great for re-direction (and then immediate rewarding of that changed behavior is important).

However, as mentioned in the article above, Positive reinforcement by itself does not set someone up for success - if anything it sets them on a podium and causes a more painful fall.

Negative Correction should focus on specific practicals - vague corrections such as "that wasn't very good" or "let's try that again" or "that wasn't what I wanted" don't help a student in any way. Specific practical corrections are an effective way to clean up technique and improve your dancer's work ethic.

What we need to watch out for with negative correction is to mix it up. Dancers who only get negative corrections are going to eventually feel like they're failing, because only the bad is pointed out. Not only that, sometimes pointing out what a student is doing wrong makes the continue to do it wrong (going back to visualization) because that's all they're thinking about.

The real answer to the discussion is this - where is the balance? And that is going to be different for every class.

I may have one class that I focus almost completely on positive reinforcement, because I have a lot of behavioral issues. I may have another class that is fairly full of themselves and are convinced they are better than they are, and in that case I'll mostly give corrections.

Along the same lines, I may have a student who is more sensitive to negative correction, and I'll choose to rephrase my correction in a way that doesn't sound negative. Maybe that student is a brand new dance student and is already uncomfortable and intimidated. So instead of saying "your back leg is bent," I'll phrase it as "yes, keep reaching your leg behind you until it's straight." It's still a correction, but I'm phrasing it as something I want them to do, rather than something I don't want them to do.

>>>>>You might like: Supporting Your Dancer - a parent guide

When it comes down to it, we as teachers are educators not just of dance, but of behavior and attitudes. We teach children how to think about themselves and how to motivate themselves. In order to motivate a child, we need to know them. So get to know your students and figure out what they need. The rest will come naturally.

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